Letters From the West

Hawkins: Idaho, the home of state-sponsored crony capitalism

The Idaho Republicans who lost Saturday in a vote that would have required candidates to get the central committee’s blessing, have a remarkably similar outlook to Idaho’s Democratic outsiders.

The rules committee members who backed Rod Beck, the Region 4 GOP chairman from Boise were frustrated that lobbyists in Boise have more sway with the state’s elected officials, all Republicans, than the GOP Central Committee.

It came up this year over health exchanges where members like Vicki Purdy of New Meadows blamed their defeat on the influence of the so-called “Blues,” Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Former Idaho State Sen. Stan Hawkins of Ucon, who was at the meeting in McCall said the party was increasingly divided between people who supported traditional Republican values like the free market and those that were involved in “state-sponsored crony capitalism.” He said the press was a part of the problem because it minimized how former GOP state officials leave to get lucrative jobs in everything from utilities to failed ski resorts.

His criticism and the debate over Beck’s proposal sounded remarkably similar to Democratic critics of former U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, a retired CEO himself. These staunch liberal Democrats criticized Minnick for supporting big corporations and banks at the expense of the poor and the powerless. The only difference is the tone.

Ryan Davidson, the former chairman of the Idaho Libertarian Party, who sits on the GOP Central Committee’s Rules Committee said he opposes limits on campaign spending. But he said Idaho’s power interests overwhelm the voice of the central committee because they provide the cash that candidates need to get elected.

So unlike the Democratic outsiders, who want limits on campaign spending, Davidson wants some kind of party process that forces GOP elected officials to tow the party line and carry out its resolutions.

“They might as well resolve that the moon is made of Swiss cheese,” Davidson said of the central committee’s resolution panel.

But some Republicans said that resolutions urging an end to federal funding of the defunct liberal group Acorn or ending debt ceiling increases, essentially destroying the economy, or ending daylight saving time, are as credible as a Swiss cheese moon.

For Gretchen Clelland, of Jerome the issue amounts to a lack of respect for rank and file Republicans who participate on the central committee.

It is like the elected officials are saying “We still want you to write checks and put your signs out but we don’t care about your vote,” Clelland said.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West